I Thought I Wasn't the 'Kind of Person' to Get Depressed
There are two big lies I’ve always told myself.
The first is I could always handle anything, no matter how much I took on.
The second I told my doctor as I sat in his office, trying to explain to him why I didn’t want something “unnatural” to help me return to myself.
“This may sound really ridiculous, but I’m just not the kind of person who takes medication to cope,” I said.
As I said it, I realized I did indeed sound ridiculous. From the amused and slightly pitying expression on his face, he apparently thought so, too.
Because the truth was, I wasn’t the kind of person that went to a psychologist, had an anxiety disorder or got depressed — until I was.
It was October of last year, and I was sucked into the end-of-year rush. I’d taken on far too much work like I had repeatedly done before. Sandra, my business partner and one of my best friends, warned me I was stretching myself dangerously far and was going to snap. I guess you don’t have any concept of your limits until you’re faced with them.
Unsurprisingly, I got sick. The doctor confirmed I had a sinus infection and asked if there was anything else bothering me. Feeling like I might be overreacting, I mentioned I kept feeling like there was a wind stuck in my chest when I went to sleep. It caused me to wake up feeling panicky just after I fell asleep, often triggering a nightmare that I would die if I breathed in or swallowed.
The doctor reacted with a lot more interest than I had expected him to. He recommended I see a psychologist at the practice.
Psychologist — the word was foreign in my mouth and sat awkwardly on my tongue.
I walked into the reception that Friday for my appointment. I mumbled, “I’m here for Karolyn, the psychologist.” I nearly followed with, “Oh, but it’s just because I can’t sleep, nothing serious!” I looked around the waiting room to see who had noticed me, and no one was particularly interested. Then the shame hit me — how dare I be embarrassed? But I was.
After a few months of therapy, I felt as though my anxiety was basically under control. But something still wasn’t right. My sleep patterns were a mess, I had lost my ability to concentrate and focus and I felt like I wasn’t present in my own life, like I was in a numbed-down state of self.
So after having not gone for a few weeks, I went back to my therapy session. My therapist looked at me and said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re depressed, perhaps due to burnout, perhaps not.”
I began to cry, because although a small part of my mind had suspected this, I did not want to be the depressed person. I had come to terms with being the anxious person and the patient to a psychologist. Now, I had a new label to wrap myself in, and a new uncomfortable word to roll around on my tongue until it would no longer stick in my throat.
Surely I had no right to claim such a diagnosis. Would I not be diminishing the experience of those who were “properly” depressed? I have a good life. No, a flipping great life. What is someone like me doing owning and accepting depression? I felt like I didn’t deserve to identify with an illness loaded with associations of suffering and dysfunction.
I went home, read up on depression and discovered not all depression is the same, and not everyone will necessarily experience depression in the same way.
Depression isn’t just about feeling sad all the time. You could lack energy, experience loss of concentration and memory and struggle to sleep. And if left untreated, it’s possible to end up in the darkest hole imaginable. Fortunately for me, as I started slipping down into that blackness, I had someone there to grab my hand. Someone who had suspected a low level depression underlying all that loud, shouty anxiety right from the start, and who was already working on it with me.
As it turned out, with a combination of therapy, a prolonged period on natural antidepressants, cutting out most sugar and refined foods, managing work stress, regulating sleep and deliberately removing myself from some ongoing family drama, I pulled out of the dark space very suddenly (although it’s taken a few months to settle), without needing the prescribed medication.
I was prepared to be very honest with myself, took a number of actions, was in therapy for eight months and worked damn hard to pull myself back to the air. I also now know I have the propensity for depression and will watch myself for the signs, or the denial, very carefully.
I do have the right to be depressed, because it’s something that happened to me, just like any physical illness. And I own it with a deep gratitude for what the experience has taught me about myself.
Follow this journey on Not The Kind of Person.